Dale serves as fitness director of a personal training department near Toronto, and also maintains a loyal base of personal training clients. In addition, he has recently launched his own online personal training and fitness coaching business, CANDOlife. You can e-mail sign up for a free newsletter on his Web site or e-mail him at dale@candolife.com.

For those in management positions, the task of attracting and hiring the right people is a task of great responsibility. Indeed, anyone you hire, regardless of position, is critical to the future growth of your business. If they aren’t, why are you paying them money? For most people working in the fitness industry today, time is a precious commodity that must be approached as inventory. Investing time in someone who will not or does not help you realize your vision is the surest way to make certain that it never happens. The wisdom is in knowing how to surround yourself with people that will lift you up, rather than drag you down.

All too often, the road to such wisdom is paved with mistakes in judgment that literally cost you thousands. I know that I have made a few errors, especially with regard to hiring personal trainers. While it is unlikely that each person that you hire will meet your expectations, you must learn how to select the person that fits your vision, rather than hoping that the vision fits the person. We often hire people because of the skills that they possess, but we tend to fire them for who they are. Finding more out your employees before you hire them is in your best interest.

Are You Hiring Credentials or a Person? It’s easy to fall in love with a prospective trainer’s long list of credentials. Try to keep in mind that when you began the search for a personal trainer, you were looking to hire a person, and not the longest list of qualifications. Certainly, impressive certifications, education and technical knowledge are important skills for a personal trainer to possess, but they are in no way sufficient to deliver success. A person that contains all the knowledge in the world is of little use to your business if he or she cannot effectively communicate that knowledge to your customers. Yet, imparting knowledge and information to clients, while valuable, is only part of what a successful trainer must do.

The difficult task for a personal trainer is being able to “personally” motivate people to change their behaviors. This has a lot less to do with what a candidate knows, and a lot more to do with who they are. Attitude, passion, emotional intelligence and integrity cannot be taught; rather, they are part of an individual’s innate character. Anyone with such qualities can always learn technical skills and acquire additional certifications. Personal trainers must have the mental and social agility to connect and communicate with a diverse membership on an emotional level. This is an important skill considering that most people buy for emotional reasons rather than logical ones.

We all know great trainers that are lousy salespeople. However, if sales are important to your business–-and they should be–-wouldn’t you rather have those guys working for your competition? First you should recognize that the inability to sell is often rooted in the nature of these individuals, as well as their exposure and education leading up to their entry into the fitness industry. Many kinesiologists and physical education graduates are service-driven care providers who entered the training profession to help people and to avoid the pressure of asking people for money. Such individuals often have little passion or experience in the realm of sales and business. In order to grow your business, you require trainers that are just as passionate about business, productivity and profit as they are about service, education and fitness. The real question is, “How do you find them?”

Attracting the Right Person I know you are probably saying, “That is what interviews are for, aren’t they?” Well, I will agree with you there, but first you must create a clear job description that outlines your expectations for the position. This will not only help to deter the misinformed from applying and save you time, but it will also provide you with a valuable opportunity to reconnect with or affirm your particular vision. Before you place an ad or begin interviewing, you should know your management style, your company’s existing culture, your expectations for the position and your expectations for the person who will fill the position.

If you do not know these four things, it is impossible to predict what kind of person will fit your vision, because it is not clearly defined. How will you know when the right person sits down in front of you if you have not taken the time to determine what qualities, values, behaviors and skills you are looking for? Once you have defined your vision, communicate this information to everyone involved inside and outside your company by incorporating those values and beliefs into all your written material and marketing efforts. Your hiring efforts should focus on individuals who share your beliefs and values in regard to customer service, integrity, responsibility, work ethic, and motivation.

The Problem with the Interview(er) The main purpose of an interview should be to determine if there is a match between the individual and the position. However, time and time again, we have seen personal trainers hired for sales jobs that do not like approaching people or asking them for money. There are customer service people who cannot look into your eyes and say, “Hello.” Good employees are promoted into management positions with no clue as to how to effectively lead and manage others. It is apparent that interviewing techniques can be very unreliable, and there are several reasons why:

Lack of clearly defined job competencies. Prior to the interview process, identify the behaviors, knowledge, motivations and qualities that incumbents must have to be successful in the job. Decide what skills are needed and what skills are teachable. Remember, while technical skills can be taught, a good attitude almost never can.

Lack of preparation. Too often, most mistakes in hiring are the result of hurrying to fill a position rather than taking the time necessary to find the right person. Take the time to develop a simple outline that covers your expectations for the position. Screen the resumés and applications to gain information for the interview. Prepare a set of standardized questions that you will ask each applicant to help you determine individual differences between candidates.

Lack of structure. The best interview follows a structured process. This does not mean that the entire process is inflexible without spontaneity. It does mean that each applicant is asked the same questions and their answers are scored with a consistent rating process. A structured approach helps avoid personal biases and gives all applicants a fair chance. The process should include a combination of behavioral-based questions, role plays and situational questions.

Lack of opinions. Remember that the person you hire will work for you but they must also work with you and your current employees. If you trust your existing staff members and value their opinions, why not make them part of the hiring process? It has been my experience that this approach works very well, as all employees involved feel more invested in the new employees’ success within the company. In addition, the new employee often feels a sense of kinship with those individuals involved in their hiring. If on the other hand, you feel uncomfortable with including your current employees in the hiring process, chances are that improving your business will likely depend more on you taking the time to look inwards rather than outwards.

Lack of experience. If you interview infrequently, or only when you need someone right away, you are unlikely to improve your ability to ascertain who is right for your business-–and more importantly, who is wrong for your business. If on the other hand, you are recruiting constantly, you should have a pool of candidates from which to choose.

In the fitness industry, there is more of a positive correlation between employee retention and member retention than most gym owners would care to admit. Recently, when asking a group of gym owners why they fired the last personal trainer, their responses included things such as “unreliability,” “poor work ethic,” “bad attitude,” “selfish,” and “couldn’t work with the team.” Not one of them gave technical skill as a reason for dismissal. Trainers are usually fired for who they are, rather than for what they don’t know. Yet, when hiring, technical skill is almost always the first thing listed by employers in job descriptions and advertisements. If attitude is important to you, move it up in your job description. If customer service or sales skills are essential, say so.

First and foremost, the fitness industry is a service industry that is about creating lasting personal relationships that are built on trust. With this in mind, you want to hire relationship builders and not just customer service people. Since a bad employee can do more damage to your business and customers than leaving a position empty ever can, it is imperative that you do everything in your power to hire the right person. If you have selected a candidate based upon your stated expectations, communicated the company’s philosophy and direction, put them in the right job, and empowered them with the appropriate responsibility, you will be infinitely closer to creating the type of environment where your employees, yourself and your business are allowed to grow and prosper.